Number of Deaths Related to Rita Difficult to Determine

Preparing for and running from Hurricane Rita proved far more deadly in Texas than the storm itself, as the death toll in Texas rose to about 100 in early counts.


DALLAS (AP) -- Preparing for and running from Hurricane Rita proved far more deadly in Texas than the storm itself, as the death toll in Texas rose to about 100 in early counts.

Rita's aftermath also claimed the lives of people who tried to run generators inside their homes and died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The storm, a Category 3 hurricane that made landfall early Saturday at Sabine Pass, actually killed very few, according to preliminary measures.

Getting an official tally of deaths related directly or indirectly to Rita may take weeks, said Robert Black, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry.

''At some point there will be a lot of totals on a lot of the things that we've done,'' Black said. ''A lot of the areas that are still without power, water, they're keeping notes on napkins.''

One death attributed to Hurricane Rita occurred as Gulf Coast residents readied their houses for a storm that at midweek was a Category 5 hurricane on a path toward Galveston and Houston.

In Texas City, between Galveston and Houston, a man in his 60s fell and broke his leg while apparently preparing for the storm two days before landfall. He was a large man, unable to get up, and suffocated, said John Florence, chief investigator for the Galveston County Medical Examiner.

Harris County officials reported 33 deaths attributable to the storm, including a woman found dead on a sidewalk three days before Rita hit land.

No one in Harris County actually died in the storm, the medical examiner's office said.

The evacuation of millions of people from the coastal counties as far north as Dallas killed about 60 people, according to counts so far. Some of those were already ill.

Twenty-two people, ranging in age from 14 months to 92 years, died in the mass evacuation of Houston.

Five people over the age of 65, all with medical problems, died in Walker County while being evacuated, said Justice of the Peace Amy Bradley.

''They were all on the freeway, all in stalled traffic, most of them were running their cars without air conditioning,'' she said. ''Who's to say whether they would have died at home.''

In Fort Bend County, a 17-year old boy became unresponsive in a vehicle while evacuating Friday night. He died in a hospital, and the cause of death is pending, said Florence, whose office conducts autopsies for Galveston, Fort Bend and Brazoria counties.

Madison County Judge Cecil N. Neely attributed five deaths to the evacuation, four in accidents and one man who died after pulling over to the side of the road.

South of Dallas, 23 residents of a Houston-area assisted living facility were killed during the evacuation when their bus exploded Friday.

One woman died in a car accident in Edna.

Since the storm passed Saturday, power outages and falling trees have led to at least 10 deaths, including two people in New Caney, north of Houston, who were overcome by carbon monoxide fumes from a generator and were discovered Wednesday.

Dean Kirk, 44, and Katherine Forrer, 43, had last been seen Saturday. Their bodies were found in a room with a TV, light and fan, Lt. Dan Norris of the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office said Thursday.

Other post-Rita deaths include five family members who also died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator in Beaumont; a Hudson man found dead of a broken neck and head injuries after a tree fell on him; two people who died when an uprooted tree fell on their home near Hardin; and a Shelbyville man who died when he was electrocuted as he tried to connect a generator.

That after-storm toll also included a child who evacuated from Houston, only to drown in a pool in Travis County.

State epidemiologists who are patrolling affected areas will eventually study all the death reports and make a determination on which can be attributed to the hurricane, said Department of State Health Services spokeswoman Emily Palmer.